CSC 105 - The Digital Age

Spring 2011

Synopsis: This class is an overview of computer science, touching a variety of important foundational concepts while integrating the social, legal, and ethical issues relating to technology. Hands-on, interactive labs will have you exploring the roots of technology that you use daily.

Instructor:           Jerod Weinman
Office:Noyce 3825
[1][t]0.5Office hours:
Monday2:30-4:00 PM
Tuesday1:30-3:00 PM
Wednesday3:30-5:00 PM
Friday3:00-4:30 PM
or by appointment.

Course web page:


1  Overview
2  Textbook
3  Class Meeting
    3.1  Facilities
    3.2  Reading Suggestions
    3.3  Attendance Policy
4  Assignments and Activities
    4.1  Reading Responses
    4.2  Discussions
    4.3  Participation
    4.4  Laboratory Activities
    4.5  Homework Assignments
    4.6  Essay
    4.7  Exams
5  Grading
6  Academic Honesty
7  Deadlines
8  Contacting Me
9  Accommodations

1  Overview

The academic catalog says this course is a "study of core topics and great ideas in the field of computer science, focusing on underlying algorithmic principles and social implications." We will be exploring many important concepts from the world of computing that have practical impact on our every day lives (e.g., Just how are digital images and music stored? How does my Skype message get from here to there? Do computers have limits? How does Google find what I am looking for? Why is my computer able to run a web browser, word processor, chat client, and spreadsheet at the same time?) With hands-on class activities, we will create, discover, and gain a better intuition of computational phenomena. Because this technology does not exist in a vacuum, we will also discuss its influence on society and the ethical issues involved. In short, we will answer the questions (and question the answers) that should make you responsible and well-informed citizens of this "digital age."
Our major objectives for this course include:
*  Why take it?
If you are at all interested in what computers can (and cannot) do and how they do it, then this overview of computer science is for you. There is little reason to be afraid of this rapidly developing technology-this course will inform you of the power and limits of computers, and we will inform each other of the broader scope and context for technology. Finally, while the details of the latest technology seem to change daily, the basic concepts remain the same. Knowing these will prepare you well for understanding future technologies and any claims made by their proponents.
*  What do I need to know?
This course assumes you are familiar with some basic computer skills, i.e., word processing, email, and web browsing, but lab activities are designed for students with no computer science background.

2  Textbook

There is no required textbook for this course. Weekly readings will primarily be drawn from Communications of the ACM, which has the following editorial statement:
Communications of the ACM is the leading monthly print and online magazine for the computing and information technology fields. Communications is recognized as the most trusted and knowledgeable source of industry information for today's computing professional. Communications brings its readership in-depth coverage of emerging areas of computer science, new trends in information technology, and practical applications. Industry leaders use Communications as a platform to present and debate various technology implications, public policies, engineering challenges, and market trends. The prestige and unmatched reputation that Communications of the ACM enjoys today is built upon a 50-year commitment to high-quality editorial content and a steadfast dedication to advancing the arts, sciences, and applications of information technology.
Occasionally, some material will be supplemented by other introductory readings, textbook excerpts, or research papers. I will provide these and note them in the detailed class schedule. Some other books may be helpful during the term, and will be on reserve in the Science Library:
J. Glenn Brookshear. Computer Science: An Overview, Ninth Edition. Addison-Wesley, 2007.   (for more technical aspects of our material)
Sara Baase. A Gift of Fire. Addison Wesley, 2006.   (for the social impacts)
Michael J. Quinn. Ethics for the Information Age, Third Edition. Addison-Wesley, 2008.  (for the ethical and social issues)
Henry Walker. The Tao of Computing. Jones and Bartlett, 2005.   (both technical and social)

3  Class Meeting

MWF1:00-2:05 pmScience 3813
    Class meetings will involve a mix of discussions, a few brief, lectures, and lab activities. In short: You are expected to attend and actively participate in class. I am expected to make class worth attending. Note that class start at 1:00 pm, not 1:15. You should arrive on time.
You will familiarize yourself with many concepts via collaborative, interactive in-class lab exercises. Thus, your participation and attendance is key!

3.1  Facilities

The computer network used by the math and computer science departments is called the MathLAN; its machines run the Linux operating system by default, and we will be using Linux for this course. You will receive a MathLAN account if you do not have one already.
Open Lab
Science 3815 (adjacent to our classroom) is an open lab, available at nearly all hours for students to use. If you need to finish up a laboratory exercise after class, this is the place to do it!
Technical Consultants
Tech. Consultants (TCs) are students (typically computer science majors) hired to work in the open lab and answer questions about the MathLAN machines and their software. You can identify the TC on duty by the yellow flag at their workstation. These folks should be a good resource for any of your coursework-related questions.

3.2  Reading Suggestions

You should check the class schedule for updates and read any material that has been assigned. Reading should typically entail the following.
You should skim through the reading once to get an overview of the material to be covered, paying particular attention to article titles, subject headings, and topic introductions. This first "reading" can (and should) be very quick. (Expected time: 5 to 10 minutes.)
Next, read the material closely. Not everything will make sense at this point, but hopefully many things will. (Expected time: 40 to 50 minutes.)
Final Notes
After carefully reading the material, mentally review and try making a few notes to yourself about what you think are the most important concepts being covered, as well as any questions you have. (Expected time: 5 to 10 minutes.)

3.3  Attendance Policy

I know that sometimes "things happen." Therefore, you will be granted one unexcused absence from class without penalty. However, this is a collaborative discussion and lab-based course, so your presence is integral to your learning.
If you are absent, I would appreciate a written explanation (email is appropriate). If you know in advance that you will be absent for any reason, please notify me in writing (again, email is fine) at least 7 days in advance to make arrangements.
It is very important for you to attend class on lab days because you will often work collaboratively. In addition, our discussions benefit from your contributions. If you do miss a class, you must first talk to a classmate about any material that you may have missed. After that, you may follow up with me about any further questions or concerns.

4  Assignments and Activities

Under a normal 16 credit load, I expect that you will spend at least 40 hours per week on your studies (class time, homework, and studying). Thus, you should plan to spend a minimum of 10 hours/week on work for this course. With class time clocking in at 3[1/4] hours, you'll have 6[3/4] hours/week left for the following:

4.1  Reading Responses

On most Mondays, we will spend at least half the class discussing material from the text. To help you prepare, you will write a few thoughtful paragraphs (typed, double-spaced, 1 to 1[1/2] pages) in which you reflect on and respond to the reading(s). See the course web site for more details. Grading of the responses will be on a simple ternary scale:
\checkmark(90%)for an adequate, sufficient response
\checkmark+(105%)for a particularly clear or insightful response
\checkmark-(70%)for an unclear or insufficient response

I expect most work will receive checks. Of course, no credit will be given if no response is submitted. Responses are due at the beginning of class on the date of the discussion. No late submissions will be accepted.

4.2  Discussions

Our discussions on the "softer" side of technology are important to a complete understanding of the field. Your contributions (both questions and answers) should be thoughtful. Everyone has something to offer that can enrich our understanding, even those who are reticent to speak. Even if you are untalkative, your participation is expected. Please be respectful of those whose opinion differs from your own.

4.3  Participation

Participating in class involves:
Students who regularly meet these criteria can expect to earn 90% (i.e., an A-) for their participation grade. I will reward students who regularly provide significant insights or guide discussion in productive ways with a higher participation score. Students who fail to participate regularly (e.g., by absences or by demonstrating a lack of preparation) or who participate in counterproductive ways (e.g., by dominating the conversation or making inappropriate comments) can expect to earn a lower score.
One unexcused absence will have no effect on your participation score. (See the Attendance Policy above.)

4.4  Laboratory Activities

Many class days will involve collaborative laboratory work to experiment with and learn more about the concepts we discuss. You may not always complete the laboratory assignments during class. It is important that you try to finish these outside of class to be sure that you are engaging in all the material we cover.
The lab activities are crafted to enhance your learning. Like playing an instrument or speaking a foreign language, the only way to become proficient is to practice, practice, practice! You may be expected to write up your solutions to some lab exercises as part of your homework.

4.5  Homework Assignments

Weekly homework assignments will cover problems from lecture material and laboratory exercises. These are due at the beginning of class on Fridays. You are welcome to discuss material with others, but any work you do and submit should be your own. (One good rule of thumb is that you should not leave a discussion with written material regarding the assignment.) The only exception to this is when assignments cover lab exercises that were performed collaboratively. In this case, each collaborator should submit any required materials individually and proper attribution must be given.

4.6  Essay

You will write one short paper (roughly 4 pages) that expands on the social implications of some technology beyond what is covered by our readings or our class discussion. Additional details will be provided later in the course, but the milestones are:
Topic ProposalWednesday, April 6
Sentence OutlineWednesday, April 20
Final EssayWednesday, May 4

4.7  Exams

As opportunities for you to demonstrate your understanding of the technical course material there will be two non-cumulative exams. The first will be in our regular class hour, and the second during the scheduled final exam time.
Midterm 1Friday, March 11
Midterm 2Thursday, May 19
Do not make airline reservations that will conflict with your final exam schedule.

5  Grading

My goal is for everyone taking this course to be able to demonstrate familiarity and fluency with the course concepts. I would be very happy if you all met the goals above and received "A"s. The following weighting will provide a basis for evalution.
Homework Assignments25%
Reading Responses20%
Essay Paper15%

6  Academic Honesty

You, as students, are members of the academic community. Both the College and I expect the highest standards of academic honesty. (See the Grinnell College Student Handbook, e.g.,
Among other things, this means clearly distinguishing between work that is your own, and work that should be attributed to others. It is expected that the collaboration policies given in this syllabus and on particular assignments will be followed. Furthermore, any program results or output must be faithfully recorded, not forged. (A thoughtful explanation of unexpected behavior can often be a worthwhile submission and is much better than the alternative.)
In your homework assignments, you must give specific attribution for any assistance you receive. For example, one possible acknowledegment format is "[Person X] helped me to do [thing Y] by explaining [Z]."
As an instructor, I will meet my obligation to bring any work suspected to be in violation of the College's Academic Honesty Policy to the attention of the Committee on Academic Standing, after which there is no recourse with me.

7  Deadlines

Assignments are due at the beginning of class on the specified date. Assignments due on days for which you have a prior excused absence must still be submitted by the deadline.
A late penalty of 33.33% will be deducted at each subsequent class meeting. Thus, you have at most two additional meetings to submit your work.
Exception: Deadlines for MathLAN computer-based assignments will automatically be extended by at least one class period if MathLAN is down for an unscheduled period of 3 or more hours during the week preceding the assignment due date.

8  Contacting Me

Please come by during my office hours to discuss the course content, get any extra assistance, or just talk about how the course is going. Note that if multiple students have similar questions or issues, we may work together as a group.
If you cannot attend a scheduled office hour, you may also email me to schedule an appointment; please include 3-4 possible meeting times so that I can find one that works for me.
I enjoy getting to know my students, but I prefer to reserve office hours for academic matters. If you would like to have a more informal conversation, I would be delighted to accept an invitation to lunch.
Email is also a reliable way to contact me, but please allow 24 hours for a response (except on weekends, when I do not read email as regularly). You may also call me in my office (x9812).

9  Accommodations

If you have any disability that requires accommodations, please meet with me right away so that we can work together to find accommodations that meet your learning needs. You will also need to provide documentation of your disability to the Dean for Student Academic Support and Advising, Joyce Stern, located on the 3rd floor of the Rosenfield Center (x3702).
Please also note that I require your accommodations. The chemical fragrances found in lotions, after shave, body sprays, scented laundry products, perfume, cologne, etc. make many people who suffer with asthma, allergies, environmental sensitivities, cancer, and migraines much sicker. I am sensitive to many chemicals you may not even notice, so please try to avoid using such scented products before coming to class and especially if you visit my office.

With thanks to Janet Davis for the "Reading Suggestions" as well as other key policies, and Marge Coahran for the "Facilities" outline.